Skip to main content

Full text of "The Gay Genius"

See other formats

Chapter Four

VX^HEN Su Tungpo and his brother were adolescents and almost
ready to take their examinations, inevitably the marriage question
came up. IŁ they went up to the capital unmarried and if they passed
the examinations, they would be spoken for by families having grown-
up daughters anyway. At this time there was the custom of chuo-hun
("catch marriage"): rich merchants at the capital with unmarried
daughters were on the look-out for the announcement of the results
of the examinations, and were ready to negotiate financial settlements
on successful bachelor candidates. The time of the civil service ex-
aminations was also the busy season of the matrimonial market. It §
was far preferable, from the parents' point of view, to have their sons
married to girls from their own town, born of families they knew. As
was the general custom, it was all properly arranged by the parents.
Tungpo was going on his eighteenth year when he married Miss
Wang Fu, aged fifteen, of a family living at Chingshen, some fifteen
miles to the south, on the river. His younger brother was married the
following year at the age of sixteen to a girl two years younger. These
were early marriages, though not uniquely so.

In principle, early marriages, though not quite as early as those of
the Su brothers, tend to save the young people a great waste of time
and energy and emotional confusion in trying to select and attract a
desirable match. It was most desirable for the young people to have
their love and romance settled and out of the way. In China, the
system of parents' support of daughters-in-law made it unnecessary for
young people to postpone marriage, and it was perhaps just as well for
a girl to love a man who was already her husband as to love one who
was not yet married to her, though to an incurably romantic society
the latter seems more exciting. Anyway, the Su brothers were happily
married. It is not by any means implied that mistakes were not made
by parents in arranging their children's marriages, or that a higher
percentage of happy marriages ensued; all marriages, however arranged,
are a gamble and an adventure upon an uncharted sea. The prescient
parent or fortune-teller who knows exactly how his sdn's marriage is
going to turn out, even if arranged by him, does not exist. In an ideal
society where marriages are made in a blindfold game in a dark forest,
participated in by unmarried men and women between the ages of
eighteen and twenty-five, but where social ethics and community life
are stable, the percentage of happy marriages may still be the same.
Men, whether at the age of eighteen or fifty-eight, select their mates,